Date set for renewal of watershed promise

Carroll, Baltimore to sign reservoir pact that would aid county

February 06, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With only a few details to be worked out, the county commissioners have set a date to sign an agreement to help protect the Liberty Reservoir watershed - and, indirectly, augment the water supply for Carroll residents.

The commissioners, apparently within reach of an understanding with Baltimore City officials on conditions within the metropolitan area's Watershed Protection Agreement, have set Feb. 24 for a formal signing of the document.

By signing the document, the commissioners would renew a promise originally made by the county in 1984 to safeguard watershed areas from rampant development. The renewed agreement also could mean that the state would act swiftly on Carroll's request to build wells to supply more water to South Carroll, its most populous area, and it could greatly enhance the county's bargaining position as it tries to negotiate more water from the city. The city owns Liberty Reservoir, the source of drinking water for nearly 2 million people, including about 20,000 in South Carroll.

"This signals improvements in regional cooperation on a broad scale," said Frank Johnson, special assistant to Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. "The date for the signing is on the calendar and it will be a big day for Carroll County and the whole region."

The county has a few issues to work out with the city, but nothing that would delay the signing, which is expected to draw officials from Baltimore city and county and the state, said Gouge.

"I think it will all come together," Gouge said. "We want to restate our agreement with the city and renew our contract for purchasing raw water."

Gouge said she spoke to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley at a meeting of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council on Tuesday and found him supportive.

"The mayor assured me that he would talk to his public works director about our issues," Gouge said. "Everything is all out there on the table and I am certain we can get it all straightened out."

The county can draw up to 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir, a 45-billion -gallon lake along Carroll's southern border with Baltimore County. Carroll would like to double that amount.

"We would like an additional 3 million gallons in the future," Gouge said. "We don't need that much now, but peak usage in the future is expected to be 6.4 million gallons a day."

Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works, said the city's once-strained relationship with the county has improved significantly.

"We will be discussing all the matters but we don't want to reveal the specifics," Kocher said. "I will say that everything is going in a positive direction and we have set the date of the director's and the mayor's calendar."

The county has not asked for any changes to the nearly 20-year-old agreement, but it might request amendments to a series of environmental protection strategies that the metropolitan council might add to the document, Gouge said. Those measures, such as stream buffers, could further safeguard waterways from runoff from farms, businesses and residences.

"The idea is to get the signatures and then get to work on the strategies," said James Slater, Carroll's environmental compliance specialist. "This needs to be a living document, the subject of good debate and including new developments."

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